THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Giuseppe Capotondi

Stars: Claes Bang, Elizabeth Debicki, Donald Sutherland, Mick Jagger.

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Disreputable art critic and author James Fugueras (Danish actor Claes Bang, from The Square, etc) is invited to the beautiful Italian lakeside mansion of wealthy collector and gallery owner Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger) to meet and interview reclusive artist Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland), who is living in a cottage at the rear of the property. Debney’s reputation is shrouded in mystery as he has not produced any new work for public consumption in the five decades since a fire destroyed a gallery exhibition of his work. Hoping that this opportunity will restore his own literary reputation James is accompanied by his latest girlfriend Berenice Hollis (Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki, currently also in Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending thriller Tenet), a seemingly naïve young woman from a small town in America’s midwest. While Berenice works her charms on the crusty old painter who refuses to show his paintings to anyone, James sets out to steal one of his latest masterpieces which will become the crowning glory in Cassidy’s London gallery. But things do not go quite as smoothly as hoped.

Discussions of art, the role of the critics, the true meaning behind paintings, and the legacy left behind by a great artist drive much of the early part of the film before it all takes a darker turn into noir territory.

A subtle and slow-paced tale of romance, art, greed, ambition, deception, truth and consequences, The Burnt Orange Heresy has been written by Scott B Smith (A Simple Plan, etc), and is based on the lean 1971 crime novel from the late Charles Willeford. Smith has successfully relocated the setting from Florida to Italy and he gives the material a more European flavour. The film takes its title from one of Debney’s artworks.  

This is the sophomore feature from Italian director Giuseppe Capotondi, and it comes a decade after his 2009 debut The Double Hour. His pacing is deliberately sedate, slowly leading us down the path towards the crime at the heart of the film. As the characters become more desperate and the tale begins to twist it slowly dawns on the audience that not all is at it seems on the surface.

The film has been superbly shot on location in Milan, the picturesque Lake Como region and the historic Villa Pizzo by cinematographer David Ungaro (A Prayer Before Dawn, etc). His lensing gives the material a melancholy and dark look that suits the tone of the film. There is some nice production design from Totoi Santoro, who previously worked with the director on The Double Hour. The moody atmosphere is also underscored by an evocative score from Craig Armstrong.

The Burnt Orange Heresy features a veritable rogues gallery of amoral characters, all brought to life by a fine cast. Bang brings a sly charm and dangerous edge to his performance here, although his character seems a little similar to the role that he played in the award winning The Square. Sutherland lends a little twinkle in the eye to his performance as the reclusive but charismatic artist who seems content with his life out of the public eye. This is Jagger’s first appearance in a feature film since his small role in 2008’s heist thriller The Bank Job, and he delivers a rather weird performance as the enigmatic and manipulative Cassidy who has a nice sideline in blackmail. He adds a nice and subtly menacing edge to the urbane character. Debicki lands the most troublesome character her, but she plays her with style and sexy assurance.

In the end The Burnt Orange Heresy is nice to look at but somehow seems a missed opportunity.

★★☆

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